Peering into a future of hard times, trustees of the Ravenswood City School District, which has schools in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, voted Thursday to slash the staff that provides computer services to children and teachers, among other positions.
Trustees balked at laying off the district's entire library staff -- but were warned that if they do not do so within weeks, they'll be forced to make other, equally unpalatable choices.
The district, which serves children in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, is planning for a $3.2 million -- or 17 percent -- cut to its $18 million unrestricted operating budget for 2011-12.
Class sizes this fall will rise to 25 in K-3 and to 31 in grades 4-8, officials said. Twenty-one teaching positions and two management posts are being eliminated by attrition, according to James Lovelace, director of human resources.
Officials also have said they'll have to close a school -- their preferred term is "consolidate."
The necessary cuts will get worse mid-year -- to the tune of $350 per student -- if California voters do not approve a five-year extension of sales and income tax and vehicle license fees sought by Gov. Jerry Brown, Board Chairwoman Sharifa Wilson said.
With her recommendation to eliminate the district's entire library staff of 3.5 full time-equivalent positions, Superintendent Maria de la Vega said libraries would remain open and the district would seek volunteers to staff them.
That plan was sharply criticized by current library volunteers -- several from outside of the district -- who said a professional staff is critical to maintaining the school libraries. The current staff of 3.5 is spread among seven campuses.
"Volunteers cannot run a library -- there's way too much that goes into that," said parent Dena Bloomquist, a weekly library volunteer in the Flood School library, where two of her three children attend.
Bloomquist said when she told her three sons of the plan to eliminate the library positions one of them asked, "Do they want us to read less?"
The technology cuts will "devastate the progress" Ravenswood has made in helping students with technology, said Susan Allen, a Palo Alto resident and former technology volunteer at Ravenswood who is now on staff.
"Our students have so much less than students in other districts around us, where they go to high school."
Allen said she moved from volunteer to staff status because, for legal reasons, only staff is permitted to have keys to equipment and network passwords.
"When a teacher says, 'I've got a virus,' or 'I can't put my grades in,' a volunteer can't fix that, Allen said.
But the layoffs of 3.5 full-time-equivalent technology positions most hurt Ravenswood students who go on to high schools such as Menlo-Atherton and Woodside, where other kids are more tech savvy.
"Please reconsider this for the sake of the students," Allen told the board.
De la Vega said after four years of cuts to the district, "it's difficult to know where to go."
"We have one more board meeting before we have to finalize our budget," she told trustees.
"We'll bring additional cuts in case these (library cuts) are not approved, but it has to be a yes or no. It's been very difficult on all the staff here because we've had cuts for the last four years, and people have taken on two jobs or three jobs."
Trustees, faced with making cuts for the fourth year in a row, tried to explain what they're up against.
"We're obligated by law to make sure we have a balanced budget, so we can't stick our heads in the sand and pretend like the money's magically going to come from some place," Wilson said.
In addition to its $18 million unrestricted operating budget, Ravenswood receives about $22 million in highly targeted federal and state "categorical funds" to address specific conditions, including poverty and the more than 60 percent of students who are English language learners.
But Lovelace said the district also anticipates a 10 percent to 15 percent cut in categorical funds.